The average Juneau property owner can expect to see an increase on their tax bill after a close vote by the Assembly.
A mill rate of 10.66 was approved by the Assembly Monday night after a motion for a lower 10.56 mill rate failed after a 4-4 deadlock vote. That keeps the mill rate at its current level.
Assembly members Mary Becker, Wade Bryson, Rob Edwardson and Michelle Bonnet Hale voted for the lower rate while Mayor Beth Weldon and Assembly members Alicia Hughes-Skandijs, Loren Jones and Carole Triem voted against it. Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski was not present.
Mill rate is how much tax is paid per dollar on the assessed value of a property. A higher mill rate generally means a larger tax bill.
The .1 mill difference between the proposed rate and the approved rate amounts to about a 1-percent difference, so the owner of a $100,000 house would expect to pay an additional $10.
The mill rate for the fiscal year 2019 was also 10.66, so the rate approved by the Assembly is not a tax hike. Still, an increase in property value means the City and Borough of Juneau does expect to collect about $480,000 more in fiscal year 2020, city officials said.
This wasn’t the first time the mill rate resulted in differences of opinion.
The lower rate was originally included in the city manager’s proposed budget, but the Finance Committee opted to recommend a higher rate in light of uncertainty about how much school bond debt may be shifted to municipalities.
“We spent a considerable amount of time talking about changes at the state level concerning school bond debt reimbursement,” said Assembly member Lore Jones, chairman of the Finance Committee. “At the present time, we have a moratorium on school bond debt reimbursement from the state, and we have schools that are aging.”
Those in favor of the lower rate said the city is in a good financial situation, and the mill rate is a chance to directly impact the cost of living in Juneau.
Additionally, Edwardson said while it’s unlikely, it is possible the state shoulders its full share of school bond debt.
“Say we get everything that we ask for, are people going to get a rebate?” he asked. “I don’t think so. I think it’s unlikely to happen, but it’s a little thought experiment I go to.”
The city’s operating budget passed with considerably less discussion.
The budget includes $379,491,500 of expenses and and recognizes $373,349,300 of projected revenue and transfers-in. Last year’s adopted budget included about $335.38 million in expenditures.
Since expenses are larger than expected revenue, the budget decreases the city’s fund balances by $6,142,200.
The budget passed unanimously.
Assembly members and the public talked tourism during the meeting.
Members of Juneau Neighborhoods Affected by Tourism, a recently formed group that advocates for limiting the number of tourists coming to Juneau, read a letter that made a series of requests of the Assembly and city personnel.
Those requests include: that the city provide copies of all current permits related to ongoing tour operations under control of all city departments as well as any requests for new permits, that City Manager Rorie Watt investigate cruise company plans for the next 10 years to help determine how many more ships and passengers can be expected in coming years, that the legal department investigate whether areas affected by industrial tourism can somehow be made off-limits to commercial use, and that the law department investigate the ability to cap the number of cruise ships and/or passengers coming to Juneau.
“I’m hopeful that with this new Assembly we can have a fresh start and take the lead on addressing increasing community concerns,” Terrel said.
On the Assembly side of the equation, Hale asked near the end of the almost four-hour meeting, if the mayor could write a letter to the president of Norwegian Cruise Line asking the cruise line to take greater care to limit its visible emissions.
NCL did not respond to an email from the Empire seeking comment.
Other Assembly members said they did not oppose such a letter being drafted, but they would wish to see it and offer input before anything is sent.
“I would be very cautious on the wording,” Jones said.
Near the beginning and end of the meeting, Kirby Day, the Tourism Best Management Practices coordinator, asked people to keep the program intended to minimize tourism impact in mind and to alert it to concerns via its hotline 586-6774.
Keeping the creek
A resolution adopting the Parks & Recreation Master Plan drew strong, negative reactions from residents of the Bayview neighborhood, which prompted Assembly action.
The master plan identified Fish Creek Park, a pair of North Douglas parcels near Fish Creek, as being among properties the Assembly could one day consider selling it for development. It was ultimately excised from that list by an amendment.
Residents said the park is important greenspace and home to bears, deer, fish, birds and toads that they value. Additionally, they expressed displeasure with only recently realizing the master plan included Fish Creek Park on the potentially disposable list.
“It does concern me we have so many people here, who have never heard of this,” Edwardson said.
Bryson asked City Attorney Robert Palmer if the city was required to notify residents of land reclassification in a Parks and Recreation master plan. Palmer said it was not.
Watt said the plan was for the city to keep the park and that wasn’t going to change because of the label in the plan.
“Land disposals do not happen in one meeting,” Watt said. “They do not happen quickly.”
Still, a motion to omit Fish Creek from a list of potentially disposable land and a map of that list contained within the plan led to the resolution passing unanimously.
“I think the Assembly did a good job,” said Mary Irvine, who said she likes to visit the Fish Creek Park for berry-picking and values it as a habitat for fish, birds and animals. “The parks are for everybody, and this resilient little park deserves more recognition.”
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.